The Holy Gasp!
On July 1, 2020, The Holy Gasp will congregate in the basement of the Historic Kiever Synagogue in Toronto’s Kensington Market for a live stream performance of Grief. Conducted by Maestro Pratik Gandhi, this new performance piece is written for 10 vocalists, 2 pianists, and percussion. Grief will be performed from sunset to sunrise without break, and is intended to fabricate a communal mourning ritual for those who have suffered the sorrows of losing a loved one.
Beginning April 23, the public is invited to record the names of their deceased loved ones in The Holy Gasp’s Database of the Dead. Each name entered into the database will later be inscribed into a scroll, from which The Holy Gasp frontman Benjamin Hackman will read throughout the evening as the ensemble performs Grief. The performance will be considered complete only after every name has been read, and the sun has come up.
Originally planned as an outdoor performance with a 30-person choir, sadly, the concert has been scaled back due to limitations posed by COVID-19. The concept and execution of Grief has been in the works for over two years. About Grief, Benjamin Hackman had this to say:
In the last five years, my father died of a heart attack; my therapist died of pancreatic cancer; my brother-in-law overdosed; my oldest friend hanged himself—then another friend died in a car accident, and my grandmother, God bless her, died of good ol’ fashion old age. Death is happening all over. Indeed, it always has. It is awkward, and painful, and it unites every last being who has ever lived. In the midst of a global pandemic, I wonder if enough models exist in our culture to teach us how to support the grieving, and exemplify healthy ways for us to mourn. I wish to facilitate community and ritual in which it is normal to talk about death, and where people can witness grief and have their grief witnessed in return, if even remotely via live stream and a message board. I want to provoke an urgency for the living to interact with life, and for audiences (especially diverse audiences) to have shared emotional experiences in real time. It is a shame that this project cannot happen as intended, with a much larger ensemble, and a physical audience. But with new deaths happening around the globe every day, a great urgency exists to mount this performance, and we intend to do so.
The Holy Gasp will continue to work with their venue partner to re-evaluate as the COVID-19 situation evolves and adjust as needed. The performance space in the Kiever Synagogue will allow for physical distancing between all performers and every precaution will be implemented.
Grief is a bilingual performance, with vocals being performed in both English and American Sign Language. The live stream performance of Grief will include closed captioning for the hearing impaired, and every effort has been made to make the Database Of The Dead as accessible as possible to all persons.
About The Holy Gasp: Formed in 2011 by front man Benjamin Hackman, The Holy Gasp make music for fans of theatrical, darkly comical, genre‑defiant entertainment, with instrumentation and personnel changing regularly to meet the needs of each new project. At its core, The Holy Gasp is concerned with renegotiating the parameters of a “band,” and seeks to find the intersections between music, literature, theatre, and performance art. Their most recent release, Mmm Urkh But, is a 16-minute work of musical fiction, written for bass clarinet and percussion, live streamed this past March via Maclean’s Magazine and URGNT Music from the basement of The Historic Kiever Synagogue, where Benjamin Hackman is presently Composer-in-Residence. Readers my also be familiar with The Holy Gasp’s orchestral performance of The Love Songs of Oedipus Rex back in 2018, the making of which was the subject of a CBC Short Doc by director Luke Sargent.
Database of the Dead